Inundation of a barrier island (Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana, USA) during a hurricane: Observed water-level gradients and modeled seaward sand transport


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Large geomorphic changes to barrier islands may occur during inundation, when storm surge exceeds island elevation. Inundation occurs episodically and under energetic conditions that make quantitative observations difficult. We measured water levels on both sides of a barrier island in the northern Chandeleur Islands during inundation by Hurricane Isaac. Wind patterns caused the water levels to slope from the bay side to the ocean side for much of the storm. Modeled geomorphic changes during the storm were very sensitive to the cross-island slopes imposed by water-level boundary conditions. Simulations with equal or landward sloping water levels produced the characteristic barrier island storm response of overwash deposits or displaced berms with smoother final topography. Simulations using the observed seaward sloping water levels produced cross-barrier channels and deposits of sand on the ocean side, consistent with poststorm observations. This sensitivity indicates that accurate water-level boundary conditions must be applied on both sides of a barrier to correctly represent the geomorphic response to inundation events. More broadly, the consequence of seaward transport is that it alters the relationship between storm intensity and volume of landward transport. Sand transported to the ocean side may move downdrift, or aid poststorm recovery by moving onto the beach face or closing recent breaches, but it does not contribute to island transgression or appear as an overwash deposit in the back-barrier stratigraphic record. The high vulnerability of the Chandeleur Islands allowed us to observe processes that are infrequent but may be important at other barrier islands.